The Walrus

“Do you know what happened 30 years ago today?” my husband asked me on Wednesday. He’d been listening to the news while I was in the shower.

I thought for a moment. Historic event … thirty years ago.… Nothing.

“December 8, 1980,” Jeff prompted. “The Dakota?”

That did it. “Oh,” I said. “John Lennon.”

Thirty years ago. Hard to believe. I do happen to remember exactly where I was. I was working at my college newspaper, the Daily Vidette. It was late, and the newsroom was almost empty. Being a features writer, I never worked at night. I must’ve been there taking my turn at headline-writing.

Suddenly, the old UPI teletype terminal rang out. Another reporter and I looked up at each other quizzically. Four bells? I’d never heard four bells—the signal for urgent, breaking news. We hurried over to the terminal and read the story as it rolled out. John Lennon was dead.

It was sad and disturbing news. So senseless. It sounds odd to say it now, but it also seemed like such a bizarre story. Who would stalk a celebrity?

I was struck by the event, but if I’m being honest, I have to say I was not emotionally shaken. Looking back, I wonder if I was just ruthlessly un-nostalgic at that age. The Beatles had loomed large in my childhood—by far my favorite band. They captured my imagination as they had millions of others. I listened to those yellow and orange Capitol 45s for hours and laughed hysterically at Help! and A Hard Day’s Night.

Beatles 1

But by 1980, Lennon seemed to belong to the past. I’d found little of interest in any of the 1970s solo efforts and was mystified (and irritated) by the whole Plastic Ono thing. I had moved on, leaving the old 45s and my copy of the White Album behind at my parents’ house.

Work on a recent project, From Jazz Babies to Generation Next: The History of the American Teenager (Spring 2011), reminded me how much fun and how exciting Beatlemania was in its day. And I wonder what Lennon would’ve accomplished in his later years. We all move on to different stages in our lives—he would’ve too. I wonder how my opinion of him would’ve evolved. Maybe I would’ve learned to again appreciate the “coolest Beatle”—the quirky, sly, dry-witted Walrus.


You can read about the history of the band and the media attention that surrounded them in Lerner’s upcoming The Beatles, part of the USA Today Lifeline Biographies series.